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New Parking Technology Could Make Finding An Open Spot Easier

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Let's face it: parking in a crowded lot or garage is always a pain and often involves driving around in circles for an hour trying to find that one open spot. Then when we think we find a spot, we get there and see that it's taken by a small vehicle we couldn't see farther down the lane.

Wouldn't it be nice if there was an app or system that directed us to an open spot without all the guesswork?

Researchers at Rice University think so and have developed a new hassle-free parking system called "ParkiT," that not only lets parking attendants know where open spots are, but can also alert drivers to open places through digital signs or a mobile app. So instead of driving around for what feels like hours looking for just one spot, a sign or app can tell you exactly where to go.

Current technology uses sensors on each parking space that connect to a computerized system, basically letting parking managers (and digital signs) know where open spaces are. However, these systems are expensive to implement (about $600 per space) and aren't always accurate, nor do they rarely point exactly to a specific open space.

"We created a new technology that can identify where open spaces are located," says Jennifer Ding, a ParkiT team member. "Being electrical engineers, we decided to take a different route from sensors and use cameras and computer vision. Our cameras overlook large parking lots with 50 to 100 or more spaces."

Those cameras take a picture of the lot every minute and then send the images to a main server, where algorithms and object recognition software determine which spaces are empty. That information goes to the parking lot operator, and then gets pushed to digital signs and a mobile app, telling drivers exactly where to go.

Most impressively, this system costs considerably less than the existing sensor technology. The camera-based technology only costs around $50 per space. So this new technology doesn't just help drivers find open parking spaces, but also saves money for parking lot management companies. Those savings could also trickle down to lots that charge less for parking, resulting in a savings for everyone involved.

"Right now there's no cost-effective outdoor solution for detecting parking spots ... and they're not very accurate," says Andres Cedeno, another member of the ParkiT team. "This is detrimental because operators don't really know what's going on with their lots. They don't know the occupancy rate when it's filling up, and that's really frustrating for drivers because they can't find a spot - and operators know this."

[Photo Credit: Dean Hochman | Flickr]

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